NORMAN, Okla. -- He never dreamed of running onto the Owen Field turf in an Oklahoma Sooners uniform. He never even thought of college football as a way to get a free education.
Yet Chuka Ndulue is poised to become a significant contributor on the Sooners' defense this fall. The sophomore defensive end was one of the stars of the spring, with teammates consistently pointing to him as one of the most-improved players on the roster.
"I think he's on the verge of becoming a really good football player for us," defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said. "He's strong, he's explosive, he's got good speed, he loves to play and he's a great practice player."
It's been an incredible journey for Ndulue, who has gone from relative unknown in high school to potential contributor at one of the top college football programs in the nation. He's likely to be OU's No. 3 defensive end, earning reps in a rotation alongside David King and R.J. Washington.
After living in Nigeria for the first 12 years of his life, Ndulue moved to the United States in 2004. Soccer was his sport of choice and his knowledge of American football was limited.
"I didn't know football offered scholarships until junior or senior year," said Ndulue, who played at Jesuit Prep in Dallas and was a four-star prospect. "My parents didn't want me to play at first. My (high school) coach battled for me; he and I worked hard my whole high school career."
Said Wright: "He's done a great job making the transition and getting into American football."
The transition is far from over and Ndulue still has a long way to go. At 6-foot-3, 251 pounds, he has the physical skills to be a playmaker. It's the mental part of the game that has held him back during his first two seasons at OU.
"When I first got here, the game went so fast," he said. "Now that I'm getting older and talking with the older guys and they are explaining the game to me, it's starting to slow down a little bit, it is more just playing. You have to have a feel for the game and that comes with more experience."
As Ndulue has started to understand the game more, Wright has become even more demanding of the sophomore.
"He's harder on me now than he was a year ago," Ndulue said. "He sees I'm starting to understand what's going on and he's putting the pressure on me to get better as a player."
It's a trust issue for Wright. It doesn't matter how talented a player is if the Sooners defensive ends coach cannot trust him to fulfill his role in the defense. The Insight Bowl was Ndulue's first extended time on the field with the No. 1 defense as he played spot duty with Ronnell Lewis out due to injury.
"What he struggled with early on was the mental aspect of carrying out the correct call," Wright said. "He got to the point where I trusted he could do it without jeopardizing our football team. Getting to play in that arena and having that environment and atmosphere was big for him. I think it's been an advantage for him. He has something to feed off of."
That bowl experience showed Ndulue how much he has improved while also proving he has a long way to go.
"It gave me a little confidence because it shows I'm getting better than when I first started," Ndulue said. "Seeing that happen in the Insight Bowl made me feel I need to improve at lot more this spring and this summer, take it more serious to improve and get better in everything I do."